Some call it crazy and others call it the Rocky Raccoon 50 Mile Trail Run.
To understand what happened last Saturday, February 7th, I have to go back to December 2007. That's when my friend, Brett, of "Zen and the Art of Triathlon" podcast announced, he was going to run the 50-mile version of the race for the second year. He was on a mission to improve his, less than self-satisfying, time of the year before. Although, most mortals would be happy to take home a finish, Brett was wanting to have a better experience on a course that kicked his butt and thrashed his legs. I heard his goal and decided to do what I could to help him achieve it. That is, I would pace him for the last of the three 16.67 mile loops.
You see, I haven't raced in anything... ANEEE-thing ... since April of last year and had to sit out Ironman Louisville while healing a bum left knee. Considering I hadn't run any distance beyond 10k I was sure I could build up to 17 miles in two months, but run 50 miles? No whhhay, Jose! But, with my doctor's okie-dokie, I had a plan: run only one loop, cheer on my friend, and drink beer post-race, right? Riiiiiiiiiiiiiight.
That was the original, sole intent.
(Excuse me while I wax Oscar Wilde) Then again, I re-learn, intents are seldom sole or original.
As the day of the race came closer I started to get a touch of self-bravado that so often gets me in trouble. I told myself, if I could run one lap I could probably run two. And if I could run 33.3 miles I could surely do one more 16.7 mile loop, right? Riiiiiiiight.
As long as my knee didn't hurt I'd make a race-day... errrrrr ummmm... race-moment call.
A week before the race I interviewed 10-year-old triathlete,
Winter Vinecki, of TeamWinter.org and Athletes For a Cure.org She's racing in honor of her father who is fighting late-state prostate cancer. I told her of my plans to run in the event and would try, emphasizing TRY, to run the whole 50 miles. She said, "I know you can do it. I hope to meet you someday."
A couple of days later a TeamWinter t-shirt arrived at my home. It had a personal message to me on the back. No pressure,
When Brett met me at the race packet pickup cabin in Huntsville State Park he was looking fit and in a quietly confident mood. He said, "Look, if you pace yourself and don't get hurt, you CAN do this, Brian."
Puffing out my chest, I said, "Sho' 'nuff."
Race morning was comfortably cool. Athletes running both the 100-mile and 50-mile contest mingled, drank coffee, and made last minute adjustments to their gear. At 6:00 on the dot the 100-milers took off and at 7:00 we, the 50-milers, crossed the starting line.
We ran together with an easy pace and the first loop was done without drama or incident. Well, I did catch a root with my foot and did a slow motion stumble-rumble-bumble to the ground. But, no big. I dusted myself off and headed down the trail laughing about it with Brett.
Somewhere during the 19th mile I began to fade. Both knees were hurting and my left quads began to cramp. I couldn't hold Brett's pace. We gave each other a manly-man, "whaz-up" knod and he disappeared into the woods. From that point on my run-walk-run plan set by the stopwatch was chucked into the creek and replaced with walk-the-hills and run-the-rest plan.
There's really not much more to add to the report other than I had to pop a nagging blister on my left foot around mile 40. I was between aid stations but I had a foot repair kit in my pocket and used it for a quickie field dressing. Once at the next aid station a medic tended to it and within a couple of minutes I was back to pounding the trail.
With four miles to go the sun set and I ran wearing a headlamp. Running by a narrow cone of
light is disorienting and oddly satisfying. I felt solitary in my effort and feeling sure
I was where I needed to be and was happy with my decision to go for the the full 50 miles.
I crossed the finish line in 12 hours, 55 minutes. Unlike any other race I have run there were only a few cheers around the finishing area. No throngs of the crowd or thumping music. No Mike Riley declaring, "You are an Ultra-Runner," or hundreds of cowbells ringing like confetti falling from the trees. Just a nice young lady to put a medal around my neck, another to take a photo, and somebody pressed a bottle of water in my hand. And that was satisifying just the same.
Brett, walked up and congratulated me and without much more we picked up our duffel bags, shuffled to his car, and left the race site pleased with our respecitve races. He bested his previous year's time by over 90 minutes, and I finished with a smile, and dirty shirt with a sweet message from a child on the back.
It was a good, long day.